US intelligence officials believe the recently recovered spy balloon is part of an extensive surveillance program run by the Chinese military, according to several US officials familiar with the intelligence.
The surveillance program, which includes several similar balloons, runs in part in the small Chinese province of Hainan, officials told CNN. The United States does not know the exact size of the Chinese surveillance balloon fleet, but sources tell CNN that the program has carried out at least two dozen missions on five continents in recent years.
About half a dozen of those flights were within US airspace, though not necessarily over US soil, according to an official familiar with the intelligence.
And not all of the balloons sighted around the world have been the exact same model as the one shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, that official and another source familiar with the intelligence said. Rather, there are multiple “variations,” these people said.
The link to the broader surveillance program, which was discovered before the last balloon was detected last week, was first reported by The Washington Post.
CNN has asked the Chinese Embassy in Washington for comment on the suggestion that the balloon being shot down is part of a larger surveillance program.
Meanwhile, at a government laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, an elite team of FBI engineers is poring over the recovered balloon remains, trying to learn as much as they can about the intelligence it may have gathered and the best way to track balloons. surveillance in the future.